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For Older Americans Month, Let’s Rethink Policies on Aging

A noted analyst looks at the needs of Americans 65+


Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

May is the annual celebration of Older Americans Month, marked each year with a Presidential proclamation and a range of activities at the national, state and local level to celebrate the success story associated with the aging of America. During this month, it is also good to review the real numbers that reveal how our society is truly aging.

Each year, the federal Administration for Community Living issues a report called Profile of Older Americans painting both a fascinating and compelling picture with important societal and policy implications based on recent trends and forecasts for the future.

10 Facts About Americans 65+

My personal Top 10 facts from this year’s report:

1. Over the past 10 years (2005-2015), the 65 and over population increased by 30 percent to 47.8 million. It is expected to double to 98 million in 2060. The increase was 34 percent for those 60+.

We should examine aging policy from a more holistic fashion, linking what were once siloed programs into a more coordinated approach.

2. The 85+ population is expected to triple from 6.7 million in 2015 to 14.6 million in 2040 — and those over 100 now total almost 77,000.

3. Older women outnumber older men (26.7 million to 21.1 million). And almost half of all older women live alone.

4. Racial and ethnic minority populations will grow from 18 percent of the 65+ population in 2005 to 28 percent by 2030. Between 2015 and 2030, the white (non-Hispanic) population 65+ will increase by 43 percent compared to 99 percent for older racial and ethnic minority populations, led by Hispanics and Asians.

5. Only 3.1 percent of the 65+ population live in institutional settings.

6. More than half (54 percent) of those 65+ live in 10 states, led by California and Florida. The state with the highest percent increase in people age 65+ between 2005 and 2015 was Alaska at 63 percent, followed by Colorado.

7. Of the nearly 12 million households headed by someone 75 and over in 2015, 76 percent were homeowners and 24 percent were renters. For these older homeowners, the median home-construction year was 1969 compared to 1978 for all other homeowners.

8. Between 1970 and 2016, the percentage of older persons who had completed high school rose from 28 percent to 86 percent.

9. Older consumers saw a 37 percent increase in direct out-of-pocket health care expenditures from 2005 to 2015.

10. Approximately 1 million grandparents age 60 and over are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under 18 living with them. Of these, 593,000 are grandmothers and 429,377 are grandfathers.

The Future Growth of the Older Adult Population

Obviously, the growth in the older adult population has been fueled by the aging of the boomers, who now range in age between 53 and 71. Future growth will be driven by boomers and diverse elders. I believe that this, in turn, should lead to changes and modernization of key federal programs constituting aging policy over the past 50 years.

Examining this and other demographic data should want to make us consider a revision of some older premises we have had related to aging policy. Our approach for the future should examine aging policy from a more holistic fashion, linking what were once siloed programs into a more coordinated approach.

A New Approach for Policies on Aging

For example, we should tie our future nutrition policies more directly to improved health outcomes. And our focus on livable communities for all ages should be given greater support for the exciting potential it holds. Finding ways to help greater numbers of older Americans work can strengthen Social Security and a national public-private long-term care policy can enhance retirement security for millions in the future. Finally, a fresh look at federal spending should focus on programs worth investing in such as The Older Americans Act — not only because of its benefits to older adults, but also for the future savings it can achieve in programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

Let’s celebrate Older Americans Month in diverse ways, and let our focus be to build on our successes, strengthen our commitment to those who are vulnerable and commit to the primary goal of having the quality of life keep pace with the quantity.

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Robert Blancato
By Bob Blancato
Bob Blancato is executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs and chair of the American Society on Aging.

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